France has reportedly unleashed elite special forces commandos as the country is rocked by a fifth night of violence, riots and looting
It comes after President Emmanuel Macron scrapped an official trip to Germany amid widespread protests, sparked by the fatal shooting of teenager Nahel Merzouk by police. News of the cancellation came as hundreds of people turned out for the burial of the 17-year-old.
Since the outbreak of violence sparked by the killing of the teen, at least 2,400 people have been arrested. French justice minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said 30% of those detained were minors, some as young as 13.
Now elite GIGN commandos have reportedly been sent in to help reinforce police – who, on Friday night, said they were “at war with vermin”. An elite police tactical unit, the GIGN – Groupe d’intervention de la Gendarmerie national – have been likened to the UK’s elite military special forces unit, the SAS.
The GIGN are France’s top hostage rescue unit. Its remits also include counterterrorism, surveillance of national threats, protection of government officials, critical site protection, and targeting organized crime.
GIGN units arrived in Marseille on Saturday evening, according to police in Bouches-du-Rhône. It comes after Marseilles was rocked by explosion in its old port area – and rioters looted a gun store in the city on Friday night.
Marseille’s Mayor Benoit Payan had asked the central authorities for police reinforcements to deal with the unrest. Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin later said that ‘significant reinforcements’ were arriving in the southern port city.
Armoured vehicles and helicopters were also being sent to Marseille, alongside the GIGN, reported the Telegraph. It comes after police said their officers were being “ambushed” by rioters.
So far, more than 200 policemen have been injured – and over at least 700 businesses ransacked or burnt down. About 2,500 fires were started according to authorities.
Police arrested 1,311 people overnight from Friday to Saturday. However, Minister Darmanin had claimed the violence had been “lower in intensity”.
The violence in France is also taking a toll on Macron’s diplomatic profile. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s office said Mr Macron had phoned on Saturday to request a postponement of what would have been the first state visit by a French president to Germany in 23 years.
Mr Macron had been scheduled to fly to Germany on Sunday evening for the visit to Berlin and two other German cities. The French leader’s office said he had spoken with Mr Steinmeier and, “given the internal security situation, the president (Mr Macron) said he wishes to stay in France over the coming days”.
Given the importance of the French-German relationship on the European political scene, the scrapping of the official trip was a clear sign of the gravity of the unrest in France. Earlier this year, the King cancelled his first foreign visit as UK monarch, initially planned for France, because of intense protests over Mr Macron’s pension reform plans.